FEATURES|THEMES|People and Personalities

Beyond All Differences: Interview with Tina Turner and the Beyond Music Quartet

By Raymond Lam
Buddhistdoor Global | 2014-08-29 |
From left to right: Sawani, Tina, Dechen, and Regula. From Beyond Facebook.From left to right: Sawani, Tina, Dechen, and Regula. From Beyond Facebook.
"Love Within." From Beyond Facebook.
Celebrating the launch of Love Within. From left to right: Dechen, Sawani, Regula, Tina, Venerable Mae Chee Sansanee. From Beyond Facebook.Celebrating the launch of Love Within. From left to right: Dechen, Sawani, Regula, Tina, Venerable Mae Chee Sansanee. From Beyond Facebook.
"Buddhist and Christian Prayers." From the Beyond website.
The Beyond troupe. From Beyond Facebook.The Beyond troupe. From Beyond Facebook.
"Children Beyond." From The Tina Turner Blog.
Moving beyond religious, cultural, and social differences, the Beyond project is an interfaith musical series created by four women: a “Baptist-Buddhist,a Hindu, a Christian, and a Tibetan Buddhist. So far, three albums have been released under its name—a considerable achievement as each lady is a busy artist in her own right. Tibetan singer Dechen Shak-Dagsay recently released Asian Jewel, a remixed edition of her successful Jewel album, and will follow up with a new compilation in October. Building on a theme that has informed her musical career, her thoughts on Beyond are similar to her approach with her solo albums: “In the Buddhist view, not harming others and bringing happiness into people's hearts is critical. Since my childhood I carried a wish: one day I wanted to make people happy by singing for them. Whenever I sing these Buddhist prayers, I genuinely wish to touch everyone deeply and to give them a sense of connection and belonging. With the right motivation, every single note has the power to positively transform people's hearts.”
Meanwhile, Tina Turner remains a household name amongst the pop rock, soul, and R&B pantheon. Her mainstream reach has certainly brought greater global attention to the Beyond project. “I’m being a part of something greater than everything I have done. Personally, I am very proud to be a part of it,” she reflects. “What this project hopefully will do is to teach people to find out what they are born with, to use it, and to help the world. If we can tap into that inner peaceful space, like we plug in a lamp for light and spread it, there will be more world peace, I think.”
Indian musician Sawani Shende-Sathaye is forthright about this chance to work with Tina: “Of course I have always been her fan, and it was really even more overwhelming for me to see such a down-to-earth and true artist personally,” she affirms. “She has been a great source of inspiration to us.”
Their latest album is Love Within, which was released on 6 June and features their combined voices. The very first thing that all the singers agreed upon was that they were to “collectively pass on the message of love and peace through this album.” Even though each artist practiced her own set of values or religion, they shared a common purpose, offers Sawani. The album also received the blessing of Dechen’s father, the eminent Dagsay Rinpoche (he helped to guide the singers and choose the correct Tibetan prayers and mantras, which are fused with Christian chorale and melodies).
Regula Curti, creator of the Beyond Foundation and a Swiss artist with a background in church choirs and German folk songs, feels that music unites the team. “I found healing and a higher consciousness through music. From music’s gift came the desire to help everyone see similarities before differences. Through singing prayers of various religions and belief systems, I gained a deeper understanding of my Christian roots. My music and singing are coming today from another source, from the heart and connected to the divine.”
Buddhist and Christian Prayers focuses on Dechen and Regula’s joint singing, with Tina’s narration. This album was an intensely personal project for Regula. She had turned to Buddhism many years ago, but this changed in 2005 when she and Dechen organized a ceremony with the 14th Dalai Lama and Abbot Martin Werlen of the Benedictine monastery of Einsiedeln. “They reminded the audience to deepen their own religion and to search for shared values across all belief systems. This statement woke me up to look deeper into my own practice as a Christian. I was deeply moved when I discovered corresponding prayers with Dechen and experienced the same transforming energy. We both discovered that love and compassion are the unifying essence. The journey helped me to become stronger in my Christian belief and to be proud of my roots,” she says.
After Tina left the stage, she grew tired of the concerts that had become a staple in her illustrious career. “When Regula Curti came to my house and said, ‘I have a project,’ and she described it, I was excited. ‘Oh, I get to sing spiritual songs again!’” she exclaims, remembering the fond memories of religious songs abandoned for the mainstream. “I was excited about doing something I knew from the past. My music career was to make money for survival, performing, dancing, visual. 
This project is about another love, a love of coming together, a love of spreading it in a different way across the planet. Now I am on another stage of passing another word in another way without the short dress and the red lips. I got the attention with that in order to help support this movement, which is much greater. I am happy that I did join.”
As her eclectic self-description indicates, Tina was a Baptist early in life but became a Nichiren Buddhist in the early 1970s. “I was always a spiritual woman,” she reflects. “In the worst of my times I began chanting ‘Nam Myoho Renge Kyo’ over and over. I found something changed inside of me, the load of the pressure of my life started to lift. I started to become happy and then slowly the thoughts came to me of what to do to change my life. My spiritual practice of singing the prayer helped me to go back on stage as myself.”
Sawani has always felt Indian classical music to be a spiritual calling: it is, for her, the fastest way to reach God. “Through music you can try to achieve peace and peep into the beautiful world of meditation. My musical gurus have always taught me so. Music is not just entertainment for me—it has a much deeper value in my life. . . . Without a spiritual mind one cannot attain enlightenment in music!”
One of the most extraordinary achievements of the Beyond project was Children Beyond (involving the Beyond founding members Tina, Regula, and Dechen). “We gathered children from the six great world religions,” explains Regula (this included Sikhism). “In Zurich, the imams, rabbis, priests, and monks were very cooperative. A beautiful star of playfulness and respect shone above this particular production.” Working with 30 children of so many different faiths was surely no mean feat. But children have a very easy approach to spirituality, Regula assures me. “They don't care what hat a person is wearing. In chanting prayers from different religions and discovering the rituals and symbols, the children gained a deeper understanding of the essence of all faiths and the essence of simply being human.” What delighted and excited the kids the most was to perform and sing, to hold a microphone and “to feel like a star,” she laughs. “The highlight was the dancing with Tina. I can't really think of difficulties. The singing and the practice of yoga helped us all to create a field of harmony and dialogue.”
The Beyond project is easily one of the more exciting, relatively mainstream interfaith initiatives in recent years. Like most other interreligious dialogues and friendships, Tina, Dechen, Sawani, and Regula’s own special histories and beliefs complement each other. The result is a musical project that is at once ambitious and intimate: “We worship God by practicing the religion of humanity,” concludes Sawani. “These concepts were so clear amongst all us singers in Beyond that we never even thought about religious or cultural diversity. We are all One and have tried to pass on a common message of love and peace.”
The next step always came naturally,” agrees Tina. “As Regula says: ‘Our current direction will show what our future way can be.’”
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